UVA Today Blog

How the Class of 2014 Felt at Final Exercises


This is how the University of Virginia’s Class of 2014 felt during Valediction and Final Exercises this weekend, as recorded by the U.Va. Instagram account.

Draft Day Reactions: Four Cavaliers NFL Bound

This weekend, the University of Virginia football program continued a 31-year streak of having at least one player selected in the NFL Draft. This year, Morgan Moses, Brent Urban and Luke Bowanko heard their names called and Jake Snyder signed a free agent contract. Here’s how they reacted on Twitter (and bonus U.Va. points to Brent Urban for quoting Edgar Allan Poe):

Semester at Sea: Going Ghana

A picture of a sign at the end of a trail in Kakum National Park, Ghana, that reads, "You survived. Please hand over your badge here. Good bye."

Editor’s Note: Lauren Jones, a third-year student majoring in English and Economics, is on Semester at Sea this spring and has agreed to blog about her experience. Catch up with her previous entries here.

A picture of Ghanaian children.

Ghanaian children.

Coming out of uber-European South Africa, Ghana was a whole different world. Since Myanmar, the countries we’d been visiting – India, Mauritius, South Africa – had been getting progressively wealthier; but when we landed in a place where most people in the city are living in one or two-room shacks, you’re reminded again that most of the world doesn’t look like Europe.

Ghana is FULL of color. Women in bright clothes and bold patterns walk along the roadsides, balancing bowls on their heads with goods inside for sale. Kids are everywhere, too: babies slung around their mothers’ backs and groups of school-age children walking adorably in their matching uniforms. It’s tropical, hot and muggy, with wonderful, heavy food (I ate my weight in plantains). And everything runs on Africa time, i.e. the bus will get here …when it gets here.

A picture of a man seated at a table with colorful bowls filled with water for hand washing.

The first thing our waitress put on our table was a bottle of soap and two bowls filled with warm water – for us to wash our hands! I ordered fufu, a ball of dough that Ghanaians eat with their hands and then rinse at the dinner table.

People here love to sing, and as you can imagine, Ghana’s got the bongo-music scene on lock. But when Ghanaian guys discovered that I was from the States, they would immediately start throwing out American rap lyrics (“You know Lil’ Wayne, yah?!”). True cross-cultural bonding thanks to Weezy, check.

The most impactful part of Ghana for me was the day I visited the former slave castles in Cape Coast and Elmina. It’s one thing to read about slavery in a textbook, but another to experience buildings that, at one time, were shipping 60 percent of slaves from Africa to Europe and the New World.

A picture of the "Door of No Return" shown in shadows.

The “Door of No Return” led to waiting ships on the coast, where enslaved Africans who had already spent months in the dark would be packed and transported out of Africa forever.


A picture of Elmina slave castle in South Africa.

Inside the Elmina slave castle. The castle acted as a depot where captured slaves from the African interior were brought and sold to Portuguese traders.

I walked through the dungeons where hundreds of African people were packed in and abused for months; saw the chambers where they’d be sent to starve and die; and climbed to the top of the lookout towers to see the coastline that was once filled with cargo ships. It’s hard to describe how haunting, and surreal it was to be in this place with this history, now empty and hollow.

The castles were powerful places to visit, but Ghana is definitely a different place today than it was 300 years ago. I also trekked through the rainforest, where, I enjoyed seeing this sign at the end of one trail at Kakum National Park:

I also spent a day learning how to drum and dance with a university performing arts troupe. My acting class is studying how other cultures use the performing arts to tell their stories, so in Ghana, naturally, we learned about music. No photos, but the performance that the troupe and my class put on for the shipboard community later on was packed and tons of fun, I promise. I love that for all of these countries we’re able to bring a little piece of it back with us, whether it’s a souvenir or a song!

A picture of a sign at the end of a trail in Kakum National Park, Ghana, that reads, "You survived. Please hand over your badge here. Good bye."

Twitter + Donut = Study Break


Everyone knows that final exams can be stressful. To ease some tension and put smiles on student faces, the @UVA twitter account offered free donut delivery to the first 10 studying students who replied to a tweet on Thursday. Here’s what happened:

Semester at Sea: Hoos Over Cape Town

A picture of a wall which overlooks Capetown, Sourth Africa, with "Hoos over CPT" written on it.

Editor’s Note: Lauren Jones, a third-year student majoring in English and Economics, is on Semester at Sea this spring and has agreed to blog about her experience. Catch up with her previous entries here.

A picture of a wall which overlooks Capetown, Sourth Africa, with "Hoos over CPT" written on it.

Found this U.Va shout out at the top of the Lion’s Head mountain, which overlooks Signal Hill and the bay area.

Friday morning, I woke up to Shakira’s “Waka Waka (Time for Africa)” blaring over the ship’s P.A. system, but it was probably the best thing I’d heard over that intercom – because it meant we’d arrived in Cape Town! Not only was the ship in Africa, but it had arrived at the most visited, diverse and modern city in the entire African continent.

The Cape Town peninsula is more like a cornucopia of Stuff To Do: mountains to climb, street dancers to watch, Pan-African fair-trade markets to peruse, beaches, penguins, tons of history to learn, the International Jazz Festival (!), and even whales (and sharks) to watch off the coast. I did more in South Africa than I have room to write about – six days was so short! But I can’t complain because after all, this is SAS, and this week was a blast.

A picture showing the colorful facades of homes in the Malay Quarter of Capetown, South Africa.

Bo Kaap, the Malay and predominantly Muslim Quarter of the city, is filled with colorful homes and is a popular backdrop for movie sets. The quiet area was dotted with mosques and halal restaurants.

I had the privilege of visiting Robben Island, where the late former president Nelson Mandela and hundreds of political prisoners were incarcerated from the early 1960s until 1991. My tour guide, Jama, was a former inmate of the prison, where he served five years after organizing a government protest at his high school in the ’70s. He took my group through the common areas, low-security rooms, and the maximum-security section, where Mandela was kept. Jama also showed us the spot where a few prisoners drafted South Africa’s current constitution – inside a cave that quarry worksite supervisors wouldn’t enter, because it was also the site’s bathroom.

Something I hadn’t anticipated during my visit was the still-present effect of apartheid in Cape Town. Twenty years after desegregation, most of the city’s white population still lives in nearby gated communities, but a majority of the ~3 million black and colored population live in townships farther outside of the city limits, where living conditions often lack basic plumbing and electricity. The massive income gap in the Cape Town area – where beachfront real estate goes for millions of U.S. dollars – has been the cause of recent for government protests, and it’s also fueled the city’s high crime rate. While the races are no longer separated, the discrepancy in living standards is still a major problem that the rest of the world often doesn’t hear about in the media.

A picture of Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island, South Africa.

At Robben Island, the jail cell where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.

A picture of the late Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa.

Today, a statue of the late President Mandela presides over South Africa’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

But while the city may still be facing economic challenges, it’s hard to deny that the South African people are tons of fun. My interactions with locals almost always included laughter (usually involving my accent). They encouraged me to enjoy the city, and even if I was talking to vendors who were trying to sell me something, I was consistently told to ‘take my time’ (which was so opposite the vendors in Asia).

The easygoing and happy spirit in the people of South Africa matched the colorful walls of their city, and with Table Mountain above and the beach below, it was hard not to be in a good mood in Cape Town. I also loved finding music everywhere, from a break-out guitar session on the late-night train to a citywide concert in the Kirstenbosch gardens.

I’ve realized that all my Cape Town escapades, whether they taught me a lesson or just made me laugh, helped me appreciate how a place I knew so little about before this semester quickly turned into one of my favorite places (so far) in the world. It’s been a sweet introduction to Africa.

A picture of a crowd at singer/songwriter Lira's concert in South Africa.

Chillin out to singer/songwriter Lira at the city’s weekend concert series in the Kirtenbosch Gardens. Though it started as a picnic concert, everyone was on their feet by the end of the performance.